EDITORIAL: PeerPower success

By NEMS Daily Journal

Our region’s administrators, teachers and other public education supporters responded enthusiastically on Friday in Tupelo to the description of what a privately founded and funded tutor/mentor initiative called PeerPower has accomplished with achievement at four Mississippi and seven Memphis schools.
Charles McVean, a broker and investor of international stature, took up the cause of reinvigorating Memphis East High School, his alma mater, using pay and incentives involving the schools’ best students tutoring/mentoring under-achieving students. His presentation about PeerPower’s background and success riveted the audience at the annual Dropout Prevention Summit – involving the 31 Northeast Mississippi school districts and the dropout-prevention/recovery initiative of the CREATE Foundation/Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi.
McVean’s firm, McVean Trading and Investment, has offices in Memphis, Osaka, Beijing and Geneva. His perspective on American public school achievement has been substantially shaped by what he sees in the global marketplace with its increasing competition.
Unlike some business leaders, McVean hasn’t thrown in the towel on public education’s capacity. He pursued the opposite tack, engaging the public school he knows best from personal experience – East High School – in reclaiming the level of achievement and academic prominence it once held, but now with a homogeneous student body facing all the challenges in a major metropolitan area.
In 2002, before PeerPower came to the school, 75 percent of East’s students had failing scores. In 2007, with PeerPower experience in place, 70 percent of all East students passed tests, all students involved in PeerPower tutoring/mentoring passed, and 51 percent placed “advanced” in achievement on the Tennessee algebra exam.
Using the [powerful dynamic of small-group structure, coupled with incentives, the response has been extraordinary.
Similar achievement turnarounds have been made in PeerPower programs at the Shelby and Como high schools in Mississippi.
McVean said flatly that he is dislikes charter schools and other “elitist” structures as an alternative to public education. Public schools, he said, are essential to state and nationwide success and are worth fixing.
The McVean model is the kind of community leadership and support that’s essential in some form in every successful public school district.
The funding structure is a not-for-profit foundation tied to individual schools, a method already in place in some Northeast Mississippi communities and school districts.
The program model is available to all who will use it.
We believe further examination of McVean’s method through PeerPower would be a good investment of time and communitywide analysis across our region. In some cases, embracing PeerPower would be a natural next-step for community school supporters.